Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 74 | Agosto 1987



Reagan vs. Nicaragua Beginning the Final Lap

Nitlápan-Envío team

This month the Nicaraguan revolution celebrated its eighth birthday in the city of Matagalpa, capital of one of the departments most affected by the war. Fifty thousand peasants from the departments of Matagalpa and Jinotega (Region VI)—many of them from cooperatives and settlements attacked by the counterrevolutionaries—listened to President Daniel Ortega detail the human and economic costs of the war. In the preceding days, piñata parties and dances brought a bit of joy to many peasant municipalities and hamlets in the region. The main invited guest this year was African National Congress leader Oliver Tambo, who heads the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

In his speech President Ortega once again affirmed the importance of the Sandinista army's military victories over the counterrevolutionaries. He urged the international community to provide emergency economic aid to help sustain the extraordinary efforts Nicaragua is making to continue winning the war. He also asked the Central American Presidents to resist US pressures and thus come to an accord that would bring peace to the region.

In this, the final lap of the Reagan government, the major contradiction for Nicaragua lies in the tension between the victories over the counterrevolutionaries and the price that must be paid for them—economic erosion. It is the Sandinistas' military victories that nourish the Central and Latin American peace proposals, among them the Arias Plan. In turn, it is the economic erosion that feeds the US government's determination to intensify the aggression. The current period is explained within this play of contradictions.

Contras fail to sabotage July 19

Some of the US media have been promoting an image of the "freedom fighters" as turning around, making military advances, or even almost at the door of victory. Nothing could be further from reality. According to the monthly report of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Defense, the Nicaraguan army carried out 463 combats between July 5 and August 5, killing 494 counterrevolutionaries and causing 42 other casualties.

The most forceful proof of the contras’ strategic decline was the eighth anniversary celebration itself. Matagalpa is the geographic heart of Nicaragua and the center of a war zone in which the contras have made their presence strongly felt in the past. Although they concentrated all their efforts to make a propaganda hit, they were unable to impede either the central event in Matagalpa or the many smaller ones in the municipalities. The same thing happened last year, when the seventh anniversary was celebrated in Estelí, another war zone.

FDN efforts to use the eighth anniversary to project itself in the United States as strong and victorious were centered in an attack on the small town and dirt air strip of San José de Bocay (Jinotega) on the eve of the celebration. Several hours of combat produced nothing more than the deaths of 12 counterrevolutionaries and 8 civilians—2 children and a pregnant woman among the latter. Eleven members of the self-defense militia were wounded. US journalists taken to the scene by the Nicaraguan government reported that the contra claim of having taken a major military base—which had appeared in some newspaper—was a lie. Fifteen more contras died in aborted attempts to take the rural population centers of San Fernando and Ciudad Antigua in Region I. In these same days Nicaraguan security captured a contra counterintelligence officer who had plans to carry out ambushes and sabotage the celebrations.

The military "victories" the US media speak of are little more than attacks on isolated cooperatives or settlements in the mountainous war zones. There the peasants are obliged to tend their cattle, their basic grains or other crops with rifles slung over their shoulders to defend themselves and their families if attacked. The civilians are poorly armed compared to the FDN fighters, who usually carry mortars, bazookas, etc. These "self-defense co-operatives," as they are known in Nicaragua, are defined as "Sandinista military bases"* in contra propaganda and thus in the US media. Similarly, peasants killed during the attacks, whether armed or not, are defined as "Sandinista army casualties." Between March and June 1987, six co-operatives and settlements in Region VI were attacked, leaving 22 peasants dead and 30 wounded, 141 houses destroyed, 83 million córdobas robbed by the attackers and 548 million córdobas in material losses.

"The gringo Congress doesn't know if it should give money to the contras, so they go around killing us in search of propaganda," said a peasant militia member from San Ramón (Matagalpa), speaking of the attacks on cooperatives and settlements, which have been and will continue increasing as the congressional debate approaches.

This war has in fact been characterized by attacks on unarmed civilians since its outset. The bloodiest this month was the contra ambush July 3 of a small public bus 18 kilometers northeast of Nueva Guinea (Zelaya), in which 16 peasants, including children, were traveling. The contras’ hand grenades and bullets killed 15 and left the remaining survivor gravely wounded.

In their current propaganda messages, the contras attribute their advances to the Red-Eye surface-to-air missiles that they received after approval of the $100 million. With these rockets they say they’re safe from the artillery-mounted helicopters the Sandinista army uses to fight them. On July 20, the army recovered one of these M-41-A3 rockets by capturing a supply package airdropped to the contras in the Chontales zone.* According to Nicaraguan Minister of Defense Humberto Ortega, the counterrevolutionaries currently have 200 surface-to-air rockets, including the US-made Red-Eyes, and Soviet-made 2-Ms that they’ve had since 1986. General Ortega reiterated the danger for civilian air travel in the region implied by the massive supply of such sophisticated weapons to groups that might either use them or traffic in them in an uncontrolled form. Considering both the FDN’s characteristics and the current defeat that has left them uncoordinated inside Nicaragua, this suggestion is chillingly realistic.
*Twenty US contra supply flights into Nicaragua were detected in July. The technology employed in these flights included radio communication with detailed meteorological reports. In total, between July 5 and August 5, there were 82 violations of Nicaraguan air space by different kinds of planes coming from neighboring countries. The previous month there were 61 such violations.

The reality is that the 4,000 contras functioning today inside Nicaragua are better armed and have better communications equipment, but they are still on the defensive, simply ambushing vehicles or placing mines in the roads. They don’t take on the Sandinista army in combat, but flee from it, seeking "soft targets" such as cooperatives in their impatient desire to capture the attention and money of the US Congress. Nicaragua's army successfully confronts them and pursues them. "The contras are like a plane in a nosedive," said Colonel Manuel Salvatierra, military chief in Region VI, describing the strategic decline of the counterrevolutionaries, "and they can't pull it up any more." Equally graphic was the description of one of the contras in the same region, who turned himself in this month under the amnesty law*: "The contras are hanging on by their toes." Many of the peasants who turned in their arms the past few months had been fighting in the FDN ranks for two or three years. Their surrender is mute testimony to their own recognition of the counterrevolution’s irreversible military defeat.
*The Amnesty Law, promulgated by the Nicaraguan government in December 1983, was extended for another year this month. In 1985, it was expanded to allow not only contra fighters and civilians who had fled the country to return, but now even contra leaders responsible for crimes. A person has only to go to the Nicaraguan authorities and, in the case of fighters, turn in his or her weapons, to be released without further ado. Since December 1983, 4,768 contras have taken advantage of this procedure, as have 4,802 civilians who had fled to Honduras or Costa Rica because of the war.

Managing the economic difficulties

The economic crisis is the price Nicaragua has had to pay to gain the upper hand in a war imposed on it. The relationship between the war and the economy, and the war’s human and material costs were illustrated graphically by Nicaragua's President in his July 19 message.

According to President Ortega, dead and wounded in the war have totaled 43,161—including Sandinista and contra military as well as civilians—since 1981. The steep climb since 1985 represents a much higher casualty rate among the contras than before, due to a policy of hot pursuit by the Sandinista army. The President also referred to the direct economic damages caused by the aggression, a figure that began to drop in that same period due to the army's greater control over the contras. In 1987, it is estimated the damages will be less than half of what they were in 1986. On the other hand, defense costs as a percentage of the national budget have continued to climb, although only relatively, since the budget itself has shrunk over the years. Finally, President Ortega demonstrated the effect the war has had on export production, reducing Nicaragua's valuable foreign exchange earnings. The economic situation is obviously complex and difficult, but has remained manageable despite all the variations it has suffered over the years. This year, the formulations put out in Economic Plan 1987 made a major contribution toward more adequate planning and adjustment of the variables.

At the international level, the crisis was reflected particularly strongly in early May when Nicaragua encountered difficulties getting enough oil to cover its needs until the end of 1987. After some information and a lot of speculation, it appears that the crisis has been overcome in the short run. These are the basic data necessary to understand the current situation:

- Nicaragua needs 765,000 tons of petroleum annually. The current shortfall of 276,000 tons will be resolved through initiatives being finalized with Iran, Iraq,* Libya, the socialist countries, Mexico and Venezuela. The concrete collaboration that each of these countries will offer to cover the 1987 deficit has not yet been specified.
*Nicaragua had never explored the possibility of cooperation with this Arab country. Nicaraguan Vice President Sergio Ramírez included it in his recent trip and Nicaragua is now studying the opening of an embassy in Iraq.

-It is still not known under what conditions the San José Agreement, signed by Mexico and Venezuela to supply petroleum to the five Central American countries at preferential prices, will be renewed for Nicaragua. Nicaragua has said that there’s no new accord with Mexico yet because, despite the preferential prices, Nicaragua can’t meet the conditions of the agreement: to pay 80% of the cost of the crude in cash or short-term credits and the other 20% in long-term credits. "I believe that no Central American country is capable of buying petroleum under these conditions," Nicaragua's energy minister said this month.

-With regard to the USSR and the socialist community, in 1986 the Soviet Union provided Nicaragua with 300,000 tons of crude, Czechoslovakia with 90,000 tons, Hungary with 50,000 and Poland with 30,000, among others. In 1987, the USSR has maintained the same quota, but Czechoslovakia, for example, did not respond.

Getting oil isn’t the only difficulty. Production inputs, machinery and maintenance of Nicaragua's infrastructure depend heavily on international cooperation. "We’re in an emergency economic situation,” said Vice President Sergio Ramírez on returning from his 131st mission in search of international solidarity in these eight years. "Nicaragua has no reserves to respond to the emergency situations provoked by the war." He added that "the war is a factor that distorts international cooperation."

During his speech at the July 19th celebration, President Ortega appealed again to this cooperation to make survival possible while the Nicaraguans shoulder the enormous defense effort. The lack of economic solidarity by the European governments is a growing concern in Nicaragua. "As long as the Reagan policy goes on hardening, a coolness prevails in Europe—an attitude not of pleasure, but of indifference," said National Assembly president Carlos Núñez to a European parliament delegation that visited Nicaragua.

Since foreign aid is becoming insufficient to confront the emergency in the country, the revolution's leaders are exhorting ever more strongly that the last drop must be squeezed from the country's own resources. The state institutions, the trade unions and other organized sectors must make a particular effort to guarantee survival and improve the standard of living. The increased efficiency that can be expected will also give Nicaragua the moral authority to continue soliciting more international aid. References have been made to suggestions from countries as sympathetic as the Soviet Union and the Democratic Republic of Germany that Nicaragua administer its own resources and the help given it more efficiently.

The crisis, the growing clarity with which "economic vices"* are being pointed out and these fraternal criticisms are helping to awaken dormant energies. New initiatives are being proposed to contain and administer the crisis, guaranteeing survival as the Reagan presidency enters its final phase. Nicaragua is beginning to propose more seriously than ever that, as with defense, the main resource the country can count on economically is its own effort. Nicaragua is seeking to direct the supreme effort that the moment demands particularly in the area of food self-sufficiency.

Inflation, present in any war situation, is continues to advance in the day-to-day economy, but the economic logic of containment ratified in May has been maintained. The centerpiece of this logic is that salaries increase "when the prices of basic products go up," in an effort to stay abreast of them rather than permanently behind. Therefore, when the government increased the controlled prices of meat, milk and milk derivatives, rice, bread, soap and oil this month, and the non-controlled price of almost all other products also rose, salaries increased 55% retroactively to June.

Although salaries still aren’t sufficient with these increases, the mechanism decided on several months ago serves as a containment measure, somewhat relieving the family economy. It’s only a relief, but the current economic philosophy applied by the revolutionary government is that "it’s better to have a worker protesting about his salary than about his work post" and that Nicaragua prefers that situation to the one derived from "applying IMF-type measures" that include closing factories and work centers when they aren’t profitable.

A number of initiatives permit a hopeful look toward the economic future:

-the "economic brigades" of urban workers who work extra hours and days without pay to increase production, catch up back administrative work and assure some basic services such as health and energy;

-the "innovators" movement, which invents and fabricates spare parts so that obsolete machinery or that which cannot be repaired for lack of foreign exchange can be kept running;

-the recovery of the productive work day in the countryside by increasing the agricultural laborers work hours.

The new "social control" initiative, with popular inspectors in the neighborhoods to help control unjustified price increases, guarantee a fair distribution of products and resolve daily problems in this area, promises to be an effective key to contain the daily aspects of the crisis, in which the timely arrival of supplies in just measure is the most palpable part. On the other hand, a good winter, with abundant rains for a change, promises excellent harvests.

As long as the most elemental items can be guaranteed through international cooperation and Nicaragua can show efficiency in the current containment plan, the crisis can be managed as long as the war lasts. The image projected by the United States of a Nicaraguan economy gone adrift is false. Although there are problems—which are being discussed ever more openly—the crisis is being administered according to a survival logic that will be continually refined, probably with success, in the coming months.

Reagan's hopes, pinned on eventual economic chaos, lacks a rational basis in fact. There’s a lot of hidden strength in Nicaragua's historic structural weakness. A potential for resistance is emerging from it that leans in favor of the revolution.

The international confrontation:
Reagan keeps waging more war

Nicaragua's sustained military victories have permitted a new situation to emerge in Central America—the possibility of a negotiated solution such as the one contained in the Arias Plan. At the same time, the revolution's economic troubles have permitted the Reagan Administration to continue its militaristic policies. More than ever before, Reagan counts on his economic war of attrition to create total economic chaos, in order to reach his goal of overthrowing the Sandinista government.

President Reagan has entered the final lap of his term. After three months of hearings on the Iran/Contragate scandal, during which neither Republicans nor even Democrats seriously questioned the administration's policy toward Nicaragua,* Reagan has taken heart. In August he will kick off a new pro-contra propaganda campaign, preparing public opinion for the congressional vote in October on his proposal for more contra aid. In mid-August, he will personally step into the fray with a message to the US public in which he will once again express confidence in the "freedom fighters" and make known the amount of contra aid he will request from Congress. Although for months the White House has been speaking of $105 million, it is believed the administration will ask for a greater sum, to show its support for the contras and assure funding through the end of 1988.
*Another subject congressional investigators have not wanted to touch in the hearings is the connection between the counterrevolutionary support network organized by Oliver North and drug trafficking, a subject about which there is ample testimony and documentation.

In this new offensive, Reagan is bolstered by the positive image that a mere four days of Colonel Oliver North's testimony has won for the contras. North's popularity and the at least temporary popularity he won for an immoral war condemned by international law can be explained only by the apathy and political ignorance of many North Americans. It leaves them so easily manipulated that the suffering of an entire citizenry can be turned into an object of entertainment and the instrument of that suffering into an overnight hero.

Reagan's obsessive desire to prolong the war (during July alone he made two impassioned appeals to the US public on behalf of the contras) is being challenged from two directions, given that his policy hasn’t produced results. The first was summed up by Henry Kissinger in a Washington Post column published this month. Kissinger sees Nicaragua as a "long-term danger for Central American stability and a threat to the United States." He lists three policy options: coexist with the Sandinista regime unless it is proved that Nicaragua is supplied with sophisticated Soviet military equipment; pressure the Sandinistas to reduce the size of their army and dismiss foreign military advisers; overthrow the Sandinista government or force it to establish a political system that includes a significant role for the counterrevolutionaries.

The last option, says Kissinger, is the one chosen by Congress as well as by Reagan. But the means adopted to achieve it are inadequate. Kissinger advises the US government to abandon its hypocrisy and use all means at its disposal to achieve its real objective. At the same time, he admits that overthrowing the Sandinista government is impossible without the use of US troops.

On the other hand, some Democrats have tentatively broached the possibility of switching to the first option listed by Kissinger: coexistence with the Sandinistas. Lee Hamilton, chairman of the Special House Committee investigating the Iran/Contragate scandal, and Viron Vaky, Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs under the Carter Administration, voiced this position on the New York Times op-ed page.

These Democrats deny that Nicaragua is a threat to the United States, and suggest that it would be sufficient to exercise a containment policy based on economic and diplomatic pressures. Agreeing that only the introduction of US troops could topple the Sandinistas, they conclude that the use of contra forces to achieve this goal is not only ineffective but also harms the US international image. They criticize the Reagan administration's involvement in a war that cannot be controlled, and which, as it drags on, threatens to lead inexorably to direct US intervention in favor of the contras. They propose an end to the war and support for the Arias Plan, opening the way to a policy of diplomatic negotiations. Although this is not ideal, they admit, it is a far better alternative than continuing the contra war.

Both Kissinger, who calls for a clearly defined military policy, and Hamilton and some fellow Democrats, who call for an end to the contra war and a policy of containment, present a challenge to the Reagan administration's final-hour campaign to continue support for the "freedom fighters."

Central America:
Toward an agreement?

The governments of Central America are more and more tempted to adopt a policy of coexistence with the Sandinista revolution. They fear that Reagan's militaristic policies will lead only to a regionalization of the conflict, harming the interests of every country in the area.

Despite US pressure on the Central American governments—which led to postponement of the presidential summit in June—there have been several steps toward a Central American accord in July. However limited that accord may be and however difficult to achieve, its very existence signifies that the Central American governments are distancing themselves from Reagan's obstinate militarism.

Before the summit in Guatemala, President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica traveled to all countries in the region to hear in advance each government's position toward his peace plan. Nicaragua was the first stop on his tour, and the only country where he met with opposition sectors in addition to government officials. In his eight-hour visit, he met with members of the Coordinadora, the group of parties that chose to withdraw from the 1984 presidential elections; COSEP, the private sector business association; Violeta Chamorro of La Prensa; and Cardinal Obando y Bravo.

President Arias categorically stated that the contras are not currently using Costa Rican territory from which to launch their attacks on Nicaragua and would not do so in the future. Any such activity, he stated, occurred behind his government's back. Arriving in Honduras, his second stop-off, Arias commented that he was surprised that Nicaragua had observations to make concerning his plan. Although Nicaragua had not sent Costa Rica written comments, it had made clear in public statements that the strong affirmation of the principles of nonintervention in the Contadora countries' Caraballeda Message were precisely what it found missing in the Arias Plan. Arias appeared to have ignored the meaning of these statements.

With the aim of bettering Nicaraguan-Costa Rican relations at a moment when Costa Rica was tentatively seeking a rapprochement, Nicaragua postponed its presentation of demands against Costa Rica before the World Court, which was due July 21; they will now be presented on August 10, following the presidential summit, after which Costa Rica has eight months to respond.

Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto stated that with this postponement Nicaragua hoped to remove anything that could be used as a pretext to block the upcoming summit. He noted that the Nicaraguan government would prefer to replace the demand before the World Court with a bilateral Costa Rican-Nicaraguan accord, within the Contadora context, which would establish a secure border zone open to verification procedures, with the provision that either side could appeal to the World Court if the other violated the agreement.

President Arias' visit helped relax the tensions between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was one more sign of the impact on Central America of the Reagan administration's scandal-weakened position and the Nicaraguan revolution's consolidation through the ongoing defeat of the contras.

An even more important indication of this hopeful new situation was the meeting of Central American foreign ministers on July 31 in Tegucigalpa, a first step toward the presidential summit planned for August 6-7 in Guatemala.

It wasn’t easy to arrange this meeting. After the summit's postponement in June, there was a barrage of diplomatic statements, counterstatements, challenges and second-guessing. These were the public expressions of the Central American countries' acceptance or rejection of the backroom pressures the US government continued exerting to try to block the summit. "Until we’re all seated in Guatemala, nothing is for certain," said President Ortega on July 22.

At least five days before the date set for the summit, the five Central American foreign ministers, together with the four foreign ministers of the Contadora countries, sat down for a meeting in Tegucigalpa that produced important results. Contadora's role in this process was especially significant. Since January 1987 the Contadora process had entered a period of crisis, following the ineffectual visit to the region of the eight foreign ministers of the Contadora and Support Group countries, along with the secretaries general of the OAS and the UN. At the start of the meeting there were was a moment of tension when Honduras presented its recommendations in the form of a "new plan." This gave a hint of being the tactic that would be used to obstruct accords in upcoming meetings: placing various documents on the table for discussion to cause confusion and slow down the process. It was up to Contadora to play a mediating role once again; it drew up a "conciliation document" that included the recommendations made by all the Central American leaders regarding the Arias Plan. And in fact the plan ended up the richer for this arbitration. This "conciliation document" was accepted in the Tegucigalpa meeting as the basis for future discussions. The presence of the Contadora foreign ministers made this possible; without them, the "conciliation document" might have been considered "just another document."

This document’s sixth point—the most important given the state of US-Nicaraguan relations—asserts that an end to "the military, logistical, financial or propagandistic aid, open or covert, that regional or extra-regional governments give to irregular forces or insurrectional movements" is an "indispensable element" toward reaching a regional peace.

The document includes a potential point of agreement among the Central American nations that the Arias Plan had not considered: the refugee problem. Finally, the document did not call for dialogue between the Nicaraguan government and the counterrevolutionary forces as part of the regional accords.

The Tegucigalpa meeting will be followed by a second meeting of foreign ministers in Guatemala and then the presidential summit—Esquipulas II—in which neither Contadora nor Support Group representatives will be present. Whatever accords are reached, the mere fact that such a summit meeting takes place plus the revival of Contadora's role in the negotiating process are two very positive signs of an emerging alternative that clearly confronts Reagan's military option.

Church-state relations:
Fanning the flames once again

In the international arena, the tension between the Central American peace proposals and the stubborn US war initiatives appear today to be favoring peace. In the domestic arena, leaving aside the tension between the military victories and the ongoing economic difficulties, in which the latter is currently the revolution’s Achilles heel, the realm of government-hierarchy relations is where the most serious conflict has been seen this month.

In other traditional realms of contradiction—the opposition parties and the Atlantic Coast—this month has seen a continuation of recent trends. Amidst a great deal of activity, new steps have been taken to give institutional form to the revolutionary process.

The National Assembly has resumed its work with the spirited participation of all the parties. After much discussion, the delegates came up with a reformed version of the Assembly rules. The new statute will be the procedural framework for discussing new laws within the guidelines of the Constitution signed early this year. This reform of the rules represents another step forward in giving institutional form to the legislative body. Four parliamentary opposition parties—the Liberals, Communists, Conservatives and Popular Social Christians—along with the parties of the Coordinadora, which are not in the Assembly—sent their leaders to Guatemala to "be around" at the presidential summit, where the opposition had high hopes. The Socialists and Marxist-Leninists did not join in this initiative.

In the Atlantic Coast region, the massive return of Miskitu refugees in Honduras to the Nicaraguan side of the border continues, thus showing that the peace and autonomy project has opened up new space in the region. So far, 12,000 Miskitus have returned to Nicaragua with the support of the UN High Commission on Refugees or other organizations. This month the coastal town of Kukra Hill celebrated the eighth anniversary of the agrarian reform with the handing over of 7,700 hectares of land to 1,200 families and to five African palm cooperatives at Río Kama (Bluefields).

The major tensions inside the country, then, have been between the government and the church hierarchy—or more precisely, as so often in the past, between the government and Cardinal Obando. They had increased in May when Newsweek revealed that Cardinal Obando may have received money from Oliver North's network. The Nicaraguan mass media gave maximum coverage to the story and the Cardinal absolutely refused to be interviewed on the topic, calling the Newsweek article calumnious.

This tense situation was further aggravated by a tragic event. On July 3 a US-made contra mine, planted in a narrow road in the mountains between La Patriota and Matiguás (Matagalpa), destroyed the Matiguás parish vehicle, killing the Franciscan Brother Tomás Zavaleta, a Salvadoran. Father Ignacio Urbina, also a Franciscan, and the parish secretary, Emperatriz Martínez, were seriously injured. Another passenger, Digna Martínez, sustained less serious injuries.

The tragedy had a special impact throughout Nicaragua, since it involved the first death of a member of the Catholic clergy due to the US war. In a public event in Matagalpa the following day, the President of Nicaragua, in an impassioned moment, asked: "What will Cardinal Obando say now?" The President had just been at the morgue where he had seen the broken body of the religious brother. The next day during his Sunday Mass, the cardinal—who did not go to Matagalpa for the funeral although he did say a prayer for the dead when the body was brought to Managua—made reference to the cause of Brother Tomás' death, asking: "Who did it? Well, that is the question, in a world where there is such confusion, in a world where information is so manipulated... Who? God our Lord only knows." The cardinal also referred to a "national reconciliation dialogue" (with the contras) as the way to prevent these things from happening. In this he was right in line with Kissinger's third option, which would reduce the Sandinista government to a system that would include the contras.

The next day President Ortega responded in strong words to the cardinal's statements: "God only knows how much money he must be getting from the CIA."

As on other occasions, the polemics concerning the cardinal made a big splash in the mass media, just as those concerning the government were heard in some pulpits. But the current desire for detente prevailed, preventing a possible rupture of the Church-State dialogue that began in September 1986 and had its last session in April of this year. None of the parties involved—the government, the papal nuncio, the bishops or the cardinal himself—has pulled out of the process. This month's tensions will naturally influence the progress of the dialogue, and in fact the conflicts themselves will have to be included in the discussions. However, all indications are that the desire to negotiate will prevail over these current and probably passing crises.

Relations between the government and the hierarchy have never been easy, and are not easy now. But the climate today is different from that of two years ago. Along with this new climate, characterized by the search for detente and an agreement that would be in the interest of the Nicaraguan people, another factor is the position of the bishops' conferences of the region and the continent. This month some US cardinals and bishops attended a meeting in San José of the Central American bishops' secretariat, which consists of the presidents of the region’s bishops' conferences. In the final document emerging from the meeting, the bishops called for a political solution for the region, praised the efforts of Contadora and the Arias initiative and asked the United States to give Central America economic but not military aid. Subsequently the bishops of the Latin American Bishops' Conference, the top council of the continent's Catholic hierarchy, reiterated these same positions in favor of a negotiated solution for the region.

If the violent death of Brother Tomás fanned the flames of the government-hierarchy conflict, it also helped bring together the Nicaraguan church of the poor around projects that especially serve those who are experiencing most of the suffering connected with the senseless prolongation of the war.* The Franciscan order, with a long history in Nicaragua, having now felt the effects of the war in the lives of two of its sons, responded by speaking clearly and firmly, joining its voice to those around the world demanding an end to the aggression. After celebrating the novena of Brother Tomás' martyrdom and before returning to Guatemala, Father Damián Moratori, Franciscan Provincial for Central America and Panama, said on Nicaraguan TV: "I am going to take the bold step now of calling upon the contras to lay down their weapons. I also call upon the government to continue putting the law of general amnesty into effect, to continue that gesture of good will and understanding. Naturally I am not in agreement with giving millions of dollars to some Nicaraguans to kill their brothers and sisters."
*In the heat of the moment, the two Nicaraguan newspapers and some radio stations—although not the two state-operated TV channels—contributed to the tense hierarchy-government relations with sensational and careless information. Lamentably, this phenomenon is repeated often in Nicaragua, due in large measure to what could be called "Obandocentrism." Many Sandinista journalists tend to judge all national or international prelates by the same yardstick, and magnify the figure of the archbishop of Managua as if he were the whole Nicaraguan Church. This error of vision means that these communication media and reporters cannot adequately evaluate the life of the church of the poor, either in Nicaragua or in the rest of the world.

On August 1, 30 days after Brother Tomás’ death, the Franciscans of Nicaragua invited the whole Nicaraguan Church to come together at Matiguás. There, together with other religious of various congregations and places and in the presence of the peasants whom Brother Tomás had served, the Franciscans issued an important message. The following are some excerpts:

“From the gospel point of view we oppose the unjust and immoral aggression our people are suffering, victims of a policy that goes against the most sacred principles of human rights. We do not want more war and pain; we long for peace and for respect for our land, Nicaragua.”

“We call upon the government of Nicaragua to work tirelessly, using all peaceful means and continuing to deepen the democratic and popular character of the revolution, for the benefit of those sectors of the poor who are in greatest need of justice, without forgetting the people as a whole who sincerely aspire to a peaceful and just life. We also ask it to be ever on the alert to correct errors and false steps that occur in this process.”

“We call upon all Church people —bishops, priests, religious and laity—to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus by means of unity in plurality, taking up as our own the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of humanity and of those who suffer. All of us must be a voice of hope, intensifying the spirit of evangelical dialogue, with humility, simplicity and at the same time with openness to new alternatives.”

* * *

New alternatives are opening up in Central America. In the midst of them, the confrontation between the United States and Nicaragua takes on new dimensions as the Reagan presidency starts down the home stretch. This lap will be characterized by the thrusts of two important events in August: the Guatemala summit and President Reagan's campaign in favor of the contras. What happens in the next few months will depend on what Reagan asks for, in what terms he asks for it, and what approach the Central American governments take and maintain after the summit.

In any case, we’re all coming down the home stretch of a long war-peace confrontation with a correlation of regional and domestic forces very different from that of the last two years. The current correlation of forces offers some hopeful perspectives for peace in the midst of a dark panorama in which Oliver North & Co.'s "dirty little war" and its irrational power continue to assert themselves.

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Reagan vs. Nicaragua Beginning the Final Lap

On the Nicaragua Solidarity Trail

Brother Tomas, Martyr of the Church of the Poor

Central American Peace Accord
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